AppCenter

Igor AsharenkovMay 09, 2024

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Іntro

As individuals deeply involved in mobile development and, moreover, in building tools for developers, we could not overlook an important event scheduled for 2025. This event is the closure of AppCenter—a service for building, deploying, and crash reporting for mobile applications.

In a series of articles, we will discuss what makes AppCenter so important and useful, and how and with what it can be replaced next year. We will discuss the ways to transition to other services and examine in detail the advantages and disadvantages of competitors.

In this post, we will focus on the overall picture: what CI/CD tools are, why they are necessary, and how and where AppCenter actually originated.

ci/cd

To understand the significance of AppCenter's closure, it's essential to first grasp what this service does and why it's beneficial to developers. AppCenter is a tool commonly referred to by the acronym CI/CD (Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery).

CI involves regular code builds and testing. Builds can be triggered by commits/pull requests or scheduled regularly, such as overnight, to perform time-consuming operations like running all tests or testing on multiple devices. Services like AppCenter typically offer this functionality through repository integration, support for code updates, and sending build status back to the repository to, for example, display the build status directly in a GitHub pull request.

CD relates to the delivery of build artifacts to testers, beta testers, or end-users. This usually includes the ability to upload app builds immediately after completion as described in the previous paragraph, or those compiled outside the service. These services generally offer extensive build management capabilities, user grouping, flexible build availability settings, crash reporting, and analytics.

For any serious project, all the aforementioned functionalities are essential; without them, you simply cannot release an application with a large codebase and audience. The absence of CI would significantly increase your testing costs, and without the ability to deliver builds, you would essentially be without beta testing. For large projects, beta testing is often a primary source of feedback during the early stages of feature readiness.

Even small projects or indie apps, which might be developed by a single developer in a garage at night, often utilize CI/CD practices to improve the quality of the product. AppCenter, despite its drawbacks (which we will discuss shortly), covers a significant portion of the described functionalities, and the prospect of its closure clearly necessitates finding a replacement.

HockeyApp

Looking back at the history of AppCenter, we see that it originally started as a classic garage startup. Two guys, Thomas Dohmke and Ryan J. Salva, developed an application for installing iOS apps using the ad-hoc method. This is where the name HockeyApp comes from, the project's name before it was acquired by Microsoft in December 2014 (interestingly, exactly ten years from purchase to closure—perhaps Microsoft has an expiration date for projects?). After the acquisition, the Hockey team joined Microsoft, and the project was renamed AppCenter, which then lasted another ten years.

Undoubtedly, the product quality significantly declined after the purchase. I was an active user of HockeyApp before Microsoft's acquisition and vividly remember the migration process to AppCenter. Initially, the frontend was terribly slow, navigation frequently misled users, many functionalities were simply impossible, the API behaved oddly—confusing organizations with apps, using incorrect keys, etc. The applications we migrated from Hockey had to be recreated in AppCenter because Microsoft seemingly failed to properly merge the Hockey and AppCenter databases, and persistent access rights issues to applications never seemed to be resolved.


Btw, if you run or a part of a distributed mobile app development team and you have remote devices, check AppSpector out - it lets your team debug your apps remotely and in real time




What’s next

Over time, AppCenter improved and became a daily tool for many companies for delivering and testing builds. Therefore, finding an alternative has now become a serious task for everyone who relied on AppCenter in their operations. There are several competitors in the market with similar functionalities, and I am confident that more will emerge following the announcement of AppCenter's closure.

In upcoming posts, we will explore existing alternatives, comparing their features and costs, and try each one in practice. If, like us, you have the AppCenter closure notification flagged in your email - stay tuned!


About Us

AppSpector is remote debugging and introspection tool for iOS and Android applications. With AppSpector you can debug your app running in the same room or on another continent. You can measure app performance, view CoreData and SQLite content, logs, network requests and many more in realtime. Just like you we have been struggling for years trying to find stupid mistakes and dreaming of a better native tools, finally we decided to build them. This is the instrument that you’ve been looking for.